“Playing professional sport is always detrimental to your physical and mental health”

Growing stronger and steadily climbing the ladder of success, Indian table tennis has noticed an upward trend since the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Closing a surreal run at the Tokyo Olympics and the Asian Championships, the Indian paddlers are fearless and unafraid to invade Asian territories with their now honed skills and transformed mindset. At the head of this motley group of Indian table tennis stars is veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal himself, who sets an example for and inspires younger generations – not with his words, but with his dashing performances in matches.

Returning with two historic bronze medals at the 2021 Asian Table Tennis Championships – one in the men’s team and the other in the men’s doubles, where he partnered with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Sharath Kamal, 39, plays the best table tennis of his life, as he easily claims. In a recent Instagram live ahead of World Mental Health Day with the legendary paddler, The Bridge inquired about the reason for the rise of Indian table tennis and the aspect of mental health in the context of sport. .

For growth to take place, there are many hands and minds involved to move it forward. In table tennis, a similar pluralist trend was identified, with the sport becoming increasingly popular and subsequently attracting the attention of the Federation, especially after the fertile medal run at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Asian Games 2018. Sharath Kamal, who has been in the table tennis circuit professionally for over two decades, has observed this transformation up close and has been a part of every wave high and low.

“When I compare myself as a young player in my early twenties, early thirties and now in my late thirties, I can see that table tennis as a game has evolved. It has become more professional. . For the people who administer the sport, by and large, the Indian mentality on sport has become much more professional, “noted Sharath Kamal.” The Federation is doing its part, SAI is doing its help by including us in the TOPS program, then you have NGOs like Lakshya Sports Foundation … helping me out, ”the multiple CWG gold medalist said with gratitude.

With that kind of awareness in the air, it automatically heralds good news for Indian table tennis. “Everyone is taken care of by someone in an environment to grow. This is the reason why the sport has evolved so quickly,” Sharath Kamal correctly identifies.

Mental health first approaches sport

Sharath Kamal (Source: Reuters)

All in all, table tennis, especially at the elite level, like any other top-level sport is more of a game of nerves than a show of talent. Talent may be one thing, but it’s the preservation of sanity that is at the center of an active player who must control a torrent of contrasting emotions and go out on the pitch and conquer. It is not an easy task and as important as the Federation plays in promoting the sport, it is just as crucial to take care of mental health.

Sharath Kamal, who always finds within himself the hunger to keep going and performing at his best, cannot stress enough the need to take care of your sanity. Joining the choir that Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles sang in 2021, Sharath Kamal also paired with their ideas. “Playing sports as a hobby is very healthy, both for your physical and mental health. But playing professional sports damages both your physical and mental health. Injuries keep coming, you push yourself. always hurting yourself, but you’re at the point where you still have to keep playing, ”the veteran paddler paints the picture realistically.

“Mental health is very hard to deal with. You’re on the tour all the time – you play games, you win, you lose. There are a lot of things going on that need to be dealt with … even then – there too. This is not the case. like ‘I can take a break, come home, sit down, relax, think and go home.’ I have to keep jumping from tournament to tournament… it goes to your head, your sanity, ”said the nine-time national champion, highlighting the myriad of struggles you have to face, emotionally.

However, in the pursuit of excellence and performance at the highest level, it is important to mentally condition yourself properly. “As athletes we try to get help. As an individual I can focus on my technical aspects, tactics, strategy, my diet, my mental support and all … but I can’t not do everything myself, I need a professional in these fields. Nowadays, there is more awareness on this subject ”, relays Sharath Kamal.

“I can see that a lot of young players are working with mental coaches. Basically you are more aware of what is going on inside. It’s like being aware of your physical health – today my body is not doing well. well, I should rest today or today my body feels good, I can move on to two more sessions – it’s about being self-aware “, points out the Asian Games bronze medalist, so that he anticipates the development of Indian table tennis in the years to come.

Sara R. Cicero